Punitive Damages: What You Need To Know

When you are a part of a personal injury case, you expect to be awarded payment in the form of damages. Standard damages are sought across personal injury cases, but your case might be eligible for punitive damages as well. You should know what punitive damages are, when they are rewarded, as well as the limits that are imposed on punitive damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Typically the monies awarded in a personal injury case are meant to compensate the plaintiff for pain, medical expenses, and lost wages. Punitive damages are a separate category of financial awards. They are much less commonly awarded, and while they give extra money to the plaintiff, that isn't the sole purpose.

Courts use punitive damages to punish the behavior of the defendant above and beyond all other financial awards given in the case. By awarding them, the court sends a message that it hopes will deter future similar behavior by others.

When Are They Rewarded?

Punitive damages carry a much higher threshold of behavior in order for a judge or jury to award them in a case. In most situations, they require some proof of egregious harmful behavior, fraud, or criminal negligence to have occurred, and it has to lead directly to the plaintiff's injury.

Examples of the kind of extreme behavior might include assaults of both physical or sexual nature, for instance. Punitive damages are also awarded in cases of fraud, where the defendant deliberately misleads the plaintiff in such a way that injury was a direct cause. This is often a common area of punitive damages.

Drug and medical companies found to have falsified test results and safety screenings that cause injury or illness are often severely punished in this manner. In cases of criminal negligence, the judge or jury looks for deliberate intent to create a hazardous situation. If that has occurred and led to a personal injury, punitive damages become a possibility.

What are the Limits?

Many states and jurisdictions put caps on the monetary amounts in punitive damage awards, so the limit varies. However, there is a national limit of 10:1 on punitive damages. This means that punitive damages cannot be more than 10 times the other damages given. In most situations where punitive damages are given out, the court will use the assets and net worth of the defendant as a basis for setting the parameters for punitive damage amounts and limits.

To learn more about punitive damages, speak with an attorney like those at Elliott & MacLean LLP.